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Coronavirus closes canyons of Escalante, campgrounds in Kane County

Local officials cite worries over first responders

Ali Thiel and Jeremy Pohlman, of San Luis Obispo, Calif., visit Lower Calf Creek Falls while on a trip through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument on Sunday, July 9, 2017.
Ali Thiel and Jeremy Pohlman, of San Luis Obispo, Calif., visit Lower Calf Creek Falls while on a trip through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument on Sunday, July 9, 2017.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The Kane County COVID-19 Task Force is enforcing an ordinance restricting all recreational activity to residents only or owners of real property within its boundaries, including hiking, boating, rafting or off-highway vehicle use.

In addition, any part-time residents and their entire household who have returned to the county between now and May 1 will be required to self-isolate.

The emergency restrictions are intended to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

In addition to the closure of Bryce Canyon National Park, 11 specific areas on public lands within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are now off-limits.

They are: Upper and Lower Calf Creek Falls, Deer Creek Campground, all Escalante canyons, Devil’s Rock Garden, Zebra Slot Canyon, Burr Trail, Irish Canyons including the Sandthrax camping area, Hot Springs Canyon, Star Springs Canyon, North Wash, Ticaboo/Bullfrog area and any other recreation site where proper social distancing practices cannot be achieved.

Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock said the emergency restrictions were issued in consultation with city mayors, business owners and the sheriff’s office.

“We are analyzing every area in this county, which is the size of Connecticut,” Pollock said.

He added rural leaders in Utah took criticism after an earlier plea to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to refrain from shutting the state down, and this recent decision illustrates the importance of local control.

“Our local government is so different, and our population is so different, and the needs are so different than Salt Lake County,” he said.

The order, which does not impact miners or ranchers, is specifically designed to help protect the county’s first responders and volunteer ambulance service.

Of particular concern, he stressed, are search and rescue operations to retrieve someone injured in the canyons, which attract many visitors who aren’t necessarily prepared to deal with the conditions.

“Those canyons bring in a lot of traffic, and I am concerned about our first responders,” Pollock said. “We don’t want to deplete our ambulance services.”

The Southwest Utah Public Health Department, which covers Beaver, Garfield, Iron, Kane and Washington counties, was reporting 43 cases of coronavirus as of Wednesday.

The new closures follow shutdowns at Canyonlands, Arches and Zion national parks. Boat ramps at Lake Powell are also shuttered, and camping at state parks is limited to residents in the counties where the parks are located.

On Wednesday, the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation announced the implementation of an online prepay day use system, which allows visitors to pay their park day use fee online prior to visiting a state park. Those purchasing a prepaid day use pass online will also be asked to verify they are residents of the county where the state park is located.

The measure will allow visitors to limit interaction with park staff at entrance gates. Each state park has links to their online prepay option posted on their individual park webpages. More information is available at the park division’s website.

For an overview on impacted recreation go to coronavirus.utah.gov/recreation.